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It was déjà vu. Or sort of, once more. There he stood. Outside the staff room this time. Due to a staff meeting, she had stayed back at school whereas Adityahad left for home at his usual time. She had just closed one of the cupboards putting away the last of the chart papers and coloured sheets when she turned around. To find him filling the doorway. Looking straight at her.
She stilled. All she could do was just look at him. He had robbed her of speech yet again. Even now. Damnhim. She looked around and tried to figure out how she had ended up being the only one left on the staff room? Kavita had been right here with her a minute ago. Where had she disappeared to and when?
He made no move to step into the room instead he spoke from where he was standing, “Hello Radhika.”
“Hello.” Why had her voice come rusty?
Oh God, she was just so special, he thought. Why did she have to be so beautiful?
“If you’re finished here, can I take you to lunch?” He saw no point in beating around the bush.
The gall of the man! He managed to take her breath away every time. Either by his presence or his attitude, it didn’t matter. Or by his sheer audacity. She was just so upset. So angry. Where had he been all these days? She had caught a glimplse of him of course a couple of times. Obviously when she lived in his house for God’s sake. But they had not met each other. It hurt to be suddenly ignored all of a sudden. She knew without doubt that whatever they had had was now over. He couldn’t have made it more plain. But she would have appreciated it a lot more if he had told her instead.
And it was so audacious now to be waking up to her all of a sudden one fine day and asking her calmly, cool as a cucumber if you please, if she would have lunch with him!
She had understood that she had never stood a real chance with him but she had not expected this level of indifference. She understood how raw he was feeling about his wife, but he could have told her. He didn’t have to exactly share but he could have told her. She would have understood. It would have hurt her. Itwould have been a bitter pill to swallow but she would have understood.
As for now, well he had another thing coming. “Actually, I’m sorry.” She said. “We have a staff lunch right now, so I really…..”
“No you don’t.” he said holding her eyes. “It’svoluntary. And you have already told them you wouldn’t be staying for lunch.”
She gasped. Kavita. Of course, it made so much sense. Her sudden disappearance and the traitor that she was.But no way. She wasn’t that much of a fool. She wasn’t to going to knowingly put herself up for more of this heartburn. Because no matter what he had to say to her now and it was something for sure, she wasn’t up for it. She wasn’t interested, she wanted out from the constant pain. She wanted peace. Relief from persistentthoughts of him. She wanted space. Vacuum. Calm and quiet inside her constantly tortured mind.
She lifted her chin. “Ok so you know I lied. That makes it clear then.”
She picked up her diary and folder and made to move past him to the door. But he stood immovable like arock blocking her way.
She looked up. “ Excuse me.” She said icily.
“Radhika. Please. Just this once. I need to talk to you. ”he said.
He was defeating her. Slowly and steadily, draining her strength and defences. With politeness, charm, his mere presence. And that ‘Please’. And she finally began to wonder despite herself, why was he here?What was it he wanted to talk about? Curiosity won.
“Ok.” She said folding her arms. “Go ahead. Talk.”
“In private.” He said implacably.
“This is private. As you can see,” she gestured vaguely. “No one around. It’s just me in the staff room.”
“Ok so you want to make this difficult. Alright go ahead I don’t blame you.” He said quietly.
Somehow that defeated her even more. He was not being offensive. He was just being himself. He was being Madhav. Irresistible Madhava. She looked away.
“Alright.” She shrugged, forcing herself to sound indifferent. Like she didn’t care one way or another. It didn’t matter that inside her heart was aching.
She really was the easiest person to read. She was upset to the point where she was feigning indifference. He saw through it as easily as seeing something through glass. Her expressive eyes gave her away. And as for him, he was being a monster as usual. Dragging this out to the last bit. There was no need for a long drawn meeting. They didn’t have to do lunch. But he was not only a masochist but a sadist too. He wanted to spend time with her. It was as simple or as complicated as that.
He would try to be just by her. Give her a fair explanation as best as he could. If she asked questions he would answer them honestly. Or not. Depended on what she asked. As for now he already didn’t like seeing her like this. He already missed seeing her happy and radiant. He was responsible for this. For this closed and upset Radhika. For playing with her emotions when he had been seeing all along how deep she was going; another reminder why he should get this over and done with quickly.
He took them to a restaurant they hadn’t been to before. Or at least she hadn’t been with him. Thank God for small mercies. She let him order for her. She didn’t have an appetite right now anyway. She just wanted to get this over with. What was the point of a lunch? What did he have to say what she already didn’tknow? That he didn’t bother a fig for her because he still loved and always would love his wife? Howpathetic was it going to be to listen to all this?
She didn’t wait for him to begin. She was feeling too keyed up and restless. So she asked him outright.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?”
He looked at her “I’d like to say sorry for my behaviour the last few days.”
Whoosh! An apology? She hadn’t expected this. Against everything that was screaming for sanity inside her, hope began to unfurl somewhere deep within her. His expression was still closed but then this was Madhav Dewan. One never knew with him. But she kept her face impassive and said, “It’s okay.”
“I would also like to apologise for what I have done period.” He was continuing, his voice grave.
Her plummeted. It fell lower than it had ever fallen. Along with it feel all the newly budding hope. She knew what was coming. A gentle put down.
“That’s okay too.” She marvelled at how normal she had managed to sound.
“No. it’s not okay, we both know that. I have no excuses for letting things go this far.” He said.“Especially when you had told me very clearly whatyour feelings really were on this....”
“This far?” she repeated. Suddenly she welcomed the anger that was rising inside her. “Don’t worry about it. I am not some china doll that you feel is going to break into fragments.” How much of a nincompoop did he think she was? “And you really needn’t have gone through this whole lunch routine. If the idea here was to let me know that we won’t be seeing each other anymore, you shouldn’t have bothered really. You have made it perfectly plain these past few days. I already got the message loud and clear. So if this is it, may I leave? I find I don’t have an appetite any more. Excuse me.” She made to get up. But his hand shot out to hold hers down.
“Sit down. Please.” He said implacably.
“I don’t see any point....” she said but had to fall silent because the waiter arrived just then with their food.
After he had served them and left, Madhav spoke.
“Please let’s just call it a truce for a while. Eat something. I know you like Biryani.”
“I....” once again she began to protest but he stalled her again by saying, “I don’t expect you to forgive me but please don’t leave the table just yet.”
This was awful he knew. He was being awful. He had apologized sure. But he also knew that he was not going to give any explanation. Simply because he didn’t have any, save that he wanted to run as far awayfrom her trusting heart as possible. He could not give her the marriage she wanted. Carrying on seeing her would be as good as making her see dreams that were never going to come true with him. He wasn’t that much of a demon.
“And please know it’s not you, its’ me.” He went on. “I am the one with issues here. I never should have coerced you into this. I am all wrong for you. You are an amazing, beautiful and....”
This was too much! She couldn’t take it anymore and she told him so. “Please. Spare me the Dear John lecture. I do have some pride. And you are so wrong if you think that I am so devastated that I won’t be able to handle a little break up. Yes, I hadn’t seen it coming but then, that was then. I’m okay now. And you will be relieved to know that I have already found a place to move into. By the end of this month or early next month I will leave.”
This was horrible. He was horrible. Whereas her? She on the other hand was so courageous. Just looking at her now was twisting him up in knots again. “Radhika, please you don’t have to do that. There is no need. It isn’t necessary. It’s not.....”
“Please don’t patronize me. I know it’s not a very mature thing to do. That’s what you really want to say right? You could be right but then”, she could take no more; her strength was fast slipping. She stood up, “I’ve never been that sophisticated; you’ve always known that. May be I should have taken my own advice all along. Found someone a lot closer to my age and a lot less patronizing. Thank you for the lunch.”
This time she got up and walked off before he could so much as process what she had just said, leaving the lunch untouched.
“Wait!” in a second he too had stood up but she was too fast.
Radhika heard him but she was past listening. She knew he would take at least another minute or two minutes signing the bill. Her eyes here blurred by now with unshed tears. But she managed to come out of the restaurant and the doorman, taking one look at her immediately conjured up a cab for her out of thin air. As she sat inside and sank her head back gratefully, she saw Madhav striding out of the restaurant just in time to see her cab pull away from the kerb.
Hell reigned. Inside her heart, her soul, her mind. But that was inside. Outside she was her usual self. Or as close as she could be when actually she knew she was just a shadow of her former self. Despite all her defiantand fiery speeches that day, she was shattered inside. Knowing it and hearing it loud were two wholly different things. She had known earlier that it was over but hearing it from him and that too with an apology, no matter how sincere it had been, was a different matter altogether. It was like hammering the final nail into a coffin.
But life went on. She had timed her routine now in such a way that she never saw him. She left for school before he came out of the house to leave for office. She came in when he was still at office. And when she did hear his car coming in late in the evening, she stayed up in her rooms.
Her friendship with his son and his mother was still the same although due to her wanting to avoid running into Madhav, she saw them a little lesser than before. Her admiration for Mrs. Dewan had grown even morebecause the lady never once mentioned their relationship – if you could call it that - or her son. In fact sometimes Radhika even felt that the older woman was being even nicer than before. She was always sending up something or the other for her from her kitchen.
Only when Radhika had told her that she had found a place and would be moving out by the coming month, that she had seemed to be genuinely upset. She had tried her best to dissuade her but Radhika had gently explained that it was in everybody’s best interest if she moved out.
Mrs. Dewan was heartbroken. She had actually thought that forcing Madhav to apologize to Radhika would do the trick. That it would open his eyes to what he would be missing. But it never happened and Radhika was talking about moving out. How had everything gone sobadly wrong?
Finally there seemed to be some cheer for Radhika. Her brother had called up to say that his friend, Devesh had landed a fantastic job in Mumbai and was moving there. He was going to throw a party for his friends on the 5th which was next to next weekend. Needless to say his ‘gang’ would be there. And since their family knew Devesh’s since childhood, and Radhika had always been ‘one of them’ she would have to be there too. As if to underline it further, Devesh called too to invite her. She promised him she would be there while congratulating him warmly.
After talking to them both, Radhika began to feel huge pangs of homesickness and suddenly she couldn’t wait to see her brother. But in the meantime there was one whole weekend to get past. Weekends were the worst because there was no early morning school to escape to. But thank God for Kavita and Mohan. They hadn’t left her hand for a single day. Radhika was grateful for their staunch support. And Kavita especially was such a dear. Because she had taken a sudden u-turn; she said she had always known somehow that this Madhav Dewan was a slick one. You could never trust these types. They thought charm, good looks and heaps of money was all that made a man.
That had succeeded in making Radhika laugh. Kavita really was adorable. It was evident really why Mohan thought so too. She spent the weekend with them. And was glad that she had because it was still a week before Ajay came to Mumbai. And she had desperately needed a distraction from her suffocating thoughts. She couldn’t block them out. And each one contained Madhav.
In hindsight it had really been a stupid thing to do. A brief apology would have been a much better way to do it. Since the afternoon she had walked out of the restaurant, he hadn’t seen her. He marvelled at her grit. As for him, she hadn’t left his thoughts for a single moment. He was irritable and snappy. He just wanted to be left alone most of the time. Even if that inevitably meant more thoughts of her invading his peace. Even now for instance. Her parting shot reverberated in his head. Something about being better off with a guy closer to her age and someone who was not patronizing! She knew nothing of course. It was a big bad world out there. Which brought him back to square one; for the umpteenth time he looked at his watch. It was Friday; no, in fact it was Saturday now at 1 a.m. and where was she? Who was she out with so late at night? In fact leave alone weekdays, she was nowhere to be seen on weekends too. May she was swinging it out there somewhere, searching for her golden boy.
Radhika’s time out with Kavita and Mohan over the weekend was cathartic. It was calming and healing brought about by nothing more than a lot of laughter, relaxed outings and long talks late into the night. Itreally was the most precious friendship.
“You know you can move in with us today if you want to.” Mohan said in his quiet matter of fact way late Saturday night when the three of them were sitting in the balcony and enjoying the cool breeze. She was extremely touched. But she declined the offer because it was only a few weeks before she moved out anyway. And in the meantime she was doing a commendable job of managing to avoid running into Madhav.
She got back late Sunday evening, feeling much better than when she had left the place. Monday brought in the same routine. She was glad as another week passed successfully without meeting Madhav. By the time it was Friday, Mrs. Dewan had informed her that Madhavwould be out of town for a week and had gone ahead to ask if she could join her and Aditya to watch that new Hollywood animated film that was the craze these days? She readily agreed. The weekend passed in a quiet peaceful blur. By mid week she was already waiting restlessly for the coming Saturday. She couldn’t wait to meet her little brother.
On Friday afternoon Ajay called to say his flight had been delayed so she was not to wait for him as had been decided earlier but instead she should reach the party well on time. He would get there straight from the airport.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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